Introduction first: In case you were unaware of the 1000 Awesome Things blog, Neil Pasricha was at a down point in his life a couple of years ago, and decided to cheer himself up by blogging about the good, often unnoticed, things in life. When gas prices go down just as you need some gas. When you turn a pillow onto its fresh side. The fact that we exist. When a cashier opens a new cash line. You know – awesome things.
1000 posts and 3 bestsellers later, the blog is over. In (belated) honour of the 1000th post, I decided to write about the awesome things in romance. It’s been a good exercise, because too often I focus on the annoying or tedious in romance novels. But despite the bad stuff, there are many reasons I stick with romance novels, and they’re all awesome (in my opinion, anyway). So here, counting down, are my Five Awesome Romance Things.
5. You can’t please everyone, but you can please someone. Publishing is a transient business. Just think of all those thousands – no, millions of books that clutter used bookstores, books that are in and out of print, remembered and forgotten. But what’s great about romances is that even 999 people think a book’s absolute crap, there’s probably at least one person who finds it awesomer than Kraft Dinner.
I don’t care if George Bernard Shaw gave us the greatest modern incarnation of the makeover myth – when it comes to teaching, he’s a pompous twat. On behalf of teachers around the world, I thumb my nose at you.
Today is National Teacher Day, and in honour of it I decided to blog about educators in romance. As I was thinking about books with teachers, I realized that compared to other professions, teachers actually get pretty good press. They know how to relate to children, are held to be intelligent and are usually hardworking; half the time they solve a mystery or two, and nine teachers out of ten figure out what’s wrong with the kid (absentee parent, lack of love, wanting to paint instead of do math, etc.) and use it to unite child with parent. Sure, there are the occasional boring tutors or cruel headmistresses, but they’re rarely bad enough to qualify as villains or evil.
Last month I blogged about class romance authors I wish would come back; in particular, I mentioned Judy Cuevas’ Bliss, which I’d recently read, and how it would be on my reading list for Romance Novels 101, assuming such a course ever existed (and that they would pull me out of the ranks of peons to teach it, of course).
So I decided to do some digging, and Googled “romance novels course.” And lo and behold, they exist! Kind of. The London School of Journalism, NYU, and Ryerson (in Toronto) offer romance novel creative writing, and some popular lit courses have romance components.
It’s no news that eBooks caught 99% of the population unawares. (Check out the article link in the next paragraph – boy, have we come a long way.) I’d say most authors got with the times, and most have now been e-publishing current books as well as backlists for a few years.
Except for one writer: Joanne Kathleen Rowling, aka the Woman Who Can Do Whatever the Hell She Wants. Seven years ago, she officially refused to make the Harry Potter series available as eBooks, despite rampant piracy – until last year, when she announced the arrival of Pottermore, a “unique and free-to-use Web site which builds an exciting online experience” around Harry Potter, and produced in partnership with Sony (according to the press release). Ten months later, Pottermore opened to the public, and hoo boy, the windmills start again.
What is Pottermore? It’s two things. First and foremost, it’s an online portal through which you can relive the Harry Potter books, see chapters and scenes gently animated, interact with the Harry Potter universe, discover characters’ backstories and behind-the-scenes tidbits, and engage with others in the Pottermore community. You can go shopping on Diagon Alley, collect galleons, magical artefacts, and Chocolate Frog Cards, duel with other wizards – oh, and you answer two nifty quizzes to get a wand and be sorted into houses. (My wand, by the way, is a 10-inch unyielding ash with unicorn core, and I am now officially in Gryffindor.)
For those who’ve remained blissfully unaware, 50 Shades of Grey is the latest publishing phenom. Discussed obsessively everywhere from the Today show to Newsweek, the plot can be teased in just a few sentences: Christian Grey is a 27-year old billionaire in modern day Seattle who proposes an unusual relationship to graduating student, Anastasia Steele. He offers her a contract in which she would agree to serve as sub to his dom every weekend for a period of months.
We decided to subject the book to the scrutiny of our Pandora. This time it’s Sandy AAR and Jean AAR who open Pandora’s Box.
Jean AAR: I really wasn’t sure what to expect, considering all the buzz, but there also seemed to be a lot of hyperbole in either direction – either it was the greatest thing since the Pill or the worst thing ever published. So I kind of took it in stride. If I had to grade it, I’d give it a C+/B-. Parts of it are weirdly compelling, but other parts are just downright amateur. Still, it’s not really any different from hundreds of other romance novels.
Sandy AAR: I agree. It’s a romance novel. I kind of land in the B- territory. I thought it was kind of like an HP in a weird way. Mysterious gazallionaire meets virtuous student and sweeps her away to his lair yadda, yadda, yadda. But then there’s the sex. Which is actually pretty raunchy.
JW: Do you think the raunchiness gets tiring, or becomes unnecessary, especially in the second book? I haven’t read the third book yet, but I feel that if you took out two-thirds of the sex, edited heavily, and compressed, there’d be a B/B+ in there somewhere.
I find this year my romance reading has been split firmly into three camps: Review books, Must Buy This New Release books, and Yes! They Came In The Mail! classics. In the latter case, Better World Books is my absolute bestest pal – free shipping, frequent coupon codes, and good prices. Only thing missing is a price drop watch.
Anyway, I’ve gotten my hands on some books that I’ve been yearning to read after reading about them, hearing about them, and not being able to find them because they’re so bloody hard to find. The Windflower is one; Jane Ashford is another. But the one that I just finished last night, at the grand ole’ hour of 2:47am, and the spur for today’s blog, is Bliss by Judy Cuevas.
I snatched it up when it appeared on Better World Books for $5.95. Would it have been my first choice to read about a “washed-up artistic genius who never met a drug he didn’t like,” and a “materialistic, ambitious, upstart” heroine known as Miss Seven-Minutes-of-Heaven? Um, no, not really, to tell the truth.
Dearest, darling readers: I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day with your loved ones. My day began quite unexceptionally, at school with those sweet children in my class, and all I planned to do when I got home was start Gaelen Foley’s One Night of Sin. But guess what, cupcakes? Before long I was sighing and shaking my head. There was one thing, O Best Beloveds, that was driving me to near insanity – much as I am probably doing to you currently, my poor angels. And that was the proliferation of endearments.
I have a hard time dealing with them, especially the flowery ones, and especially when they’re used often. One Night of Sin has them in abundance and I find them nauseating. But are they nauseating because it’s actually overkill, or is it just because I’m not used to them?
It is now almost one year since I bought my Nook Color. Some things have changed – I definitely access more books than I used to, and some of it (maybe 30-40%) is digital. But I confess I’m still primarily a paper reader. For me, it’s a matter of comfort, and I just can’t use the Nook Color as my primary reading source.
But my friend came over the other day and looked at my shelves and shelves of books. And she said, “Wow. You have a lot of books.” She’s not wrong – guesstimating, I’d say I have about 350-500 romance novels, depending on whether I have random stacks hidden away somewhere (which is probably a yes), and most of which I’ve accumulated in the last two years. And I still gain about 4-5 romances a month.
Well, what if my house burns down? Am I going to have to lose all those books? It seems stupid not to take advantage of the digital age and just get eBooks. I’m sure most of us agree that uniformity amongst the publishers has far to go, but the convenience, pricing, and durability of an eBook make total sense at this point. And yet why shouldn’t I buy a paper copy if I want, especially since they’re still available, and it’s what works for me?
Then it hit me: Digital copies. They don’t do it for CDs, because it’s legal to buy a CD then make a digital copy yourself. But they do it for DVDs, because it’s illegal to rip a DVD, even if you own it. So you pay a little more, get extra features or Blu-Ray, and get licensed to download a digital copy of your DVD. And you’ll have it for all eternity. (Frankly, the legality of ripping CDs versus DVDs doesn’t make much sense to me, but whatever. They’re both on their way out.)
It’s no secret that I like historicals. No, change that. I love historicals. Yeah, I complain about the proliferation of Regencies. But when all’s said and done, I look at my list of treasured books, and the vast majority are historicals.
My second preference would be for paranormals and fantasy. Contemporaries, I’m afraid, are a very, very distant third. I used to think this was due to several reasons, like the fact that historicals are my first love and that I love the escape into a separate world. And those are still true. But the other day, I had an epiphany, which, frankly, I should have had a long time ago: One of the main reasons I don’t read as many contemporaries as I do historicals is that 99.9% of contemporary characters are white and Christian.
My issue isn’t that I don’t qualify as either white or Christian. After all, human emotions are the same all around the world. And heck, I’m 100% Chinese, and I identify more with Eve Dallas than characters in The Joy Luck Club. (Not an exaggeration.)
Okay, I’m joking about the annual contest. But this is a blog about reformed brats.
They say that reformed rakes make the best husbands. Well, if that’s the case, then reformed brats should make the best wives.
After all, they’re both people you should stay far away from. Arguably, they’re both inherently ill-mannered and immature, and probably selfish and spoiled. And they’re both people that for some reason just attract the opposite sex. (Come on, Paris Hilton? Hugh Grant? The worst of the kind, but very, very attractive in their own way.) And maybe, just maybe, the right person will bring out the best in them.
I tell myself that. But honestly, brats don’t do it for me. (And this includes Paris Hilton.) I asked my colleagues on this issue, and most of the time I’m with Pat Henshaw on this, who can’t stand brats. Ever. But Heather Stanton makes a good point, that there’s a line between acceptable and unacceptable bratty behavior, like “a 20-year-old heroine behaving in a self-centered manner vs. a 35-year-old woman behaving like a spoiled, petulant child.” The former, Heather considers fairly realistic; the latter, pathetic. And isn’t it preferable to at least have a heroine with a strong personality (even if we wouldn’t want to befriend her) rather than bland mush?